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A wind turbine control system jigsaw

Updated: Feb 12

A phone call a few months ago went a bit like this:

Client: Do you fix wind turbines?

Me: I have installed some small wind turbines, but could you explain the problem, please?

Client: Well, we had a small tornado 12 months ago, which ripped the roof off the barn where the turbine controller was fitted.  We removed the controller bits and put them in the shed.

Me: Do you have any photos, the manual, et cetera?

Client: Absolutely, I’ll send you the photos.

Me: And the manual?

Client: Well, there is a manual, but it doesn’t tell you very much. I think it is a poor translation so it’s a bit difficult to make head nor tail of.

Me: Okay, send me over what you have, and I’ll have a look for you.

To say the manual was poor was a bit of an understatement, and I was sent the following photos:

Always up for a challenge, I agreed to take a look. After the best part of a day on site, I managed to work out what connected to what and refitted the kit:

I was feeling quite pleased with myself at this point. I switched everything on and realised there was no wind…

I agreed with the client to see how the system performed over the next few days...

Initial feedback from the customer was that it was working fine. However, some weeks later I received a call: “It’s not working, can you come and have a look? I think it’s the inverter and have borrowed one from my neighbour.”

After checking for the obvious (loose connection, fuses, etc.), I found that if I isolated the electric brake, the turbine was spinning up. It was a very windy day, so the thought of an uncontrolled turbine spinning up to destruction kept popping into my head. However, after a little more delving, I found a loose connection on the one of the heat sinks.

Somehow, I remembered from a technical description of an off-the-shelf turbine controller that speed control was achieved by loading the heat sinks. If the heat sinks are used in the control system and there is a loose connection, a designed-in failsafe condition would be to apply the electric brake. That’s the engineer brain taking over again. Fran would say the ‘chimp brain’ but I’m not listening...

By the way, I’ve forbidden her from adding any comments to this post about the heat pump fairies...

I think where I’m going with this article is that we in the UK are losing the ability to fix things; it is easier to replace with new rather than repair. I find it so frustrating that, due to lack of time, I now often need to take our vehicles to the garage for repair; historically I would always fix and service them myself. And, if the fault is a little out of the ordinary, the stock answer is “we can’t fix this”. Thirty years ago, if the head gasket went on the engine, you would get it fixed; try and find somewhere now to do this! Yes, okay, I know I’m showing my age…

Where I’m really going with this is: we need people to embrace engineering, learn how stuff works, get our hands dirty and fix things. I’m also pretty chuffed I managed to work out what was wrong and fix it. The client was very happy too!

I'll post a video of the wind turbine working on our Facebook page and Instagram.

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